A manhunt is underway for a suspect who opened fire inside a Brooklyn subway station during rush hour on Tuesday morning.
Police responded to the 36th Street station in the Sunset Park neighborhood at about 8.30am after receiving reports of smoke inside the station.
At least 10 people sustained gunshots and more than a dozen others were wounded but none appeared to have life-threatening injuries, officials said at a press conference.
As of 11am Wednesday, investigators were still searching for the suspected gunman identified as 62-year-old Frank R James as police face mounting questions about how he was able to escape.
Officials said the attack began as an N train was waiting to enter the 36th Street station when a man donned a gas mask and deployed gas from a canister before firing 33 shots inside the train and on the platform.
Dramatic footage posted online showed terrified commuters running away from a subway carriage filled with smoke as victims lay on the ground with gunshot wounds.
A Glock 9-millimeter handgun, magazines, gas canisters and fireworks were recovered from the scene. Investigators believe the suspect may have been forced to stop shooting when the gun jammed.
A $50,000 reward has been offered for information leading to the arrest of a suspect, who was originally described as a Black male with a “heavy build” standing at around 5’5” and 180lbs. He was said to have been wearing a gas mask and green “construction-style” vest over a gray hooded sweatshirt.
When Mr James’ name was first released as a person of interest, police said they did not know if he was the shooter but that he had rented a U-Haul van with Arizona plates linked to the attack, which was found abandoned several miles from the scene. Major Eric Adams confirmed Mr James is considered a suspect on Wednesday morning.
‘I saw people crying, screaming for their life’
In the wake of the shooting, several witnesses described the chaos that erupted at the station filled with smoke.
Witness Roddy Broke tweeted: “Either shots or a bomb went off at 36th Street. Scariest moment of my life, man.”
A video posted to Twitter showed terrified commuters getting off a subway car as it pulls into the 25th St station with smoke billowing from the carriage. Several appear to overcome with smoke inhalation.
Other footage and witness accounts of New Yorkers carrying wounded commuters to safety also drew comparisons to the heroic response to the September 11 terror attacks.
Haitham Taher, a 20-year-old flight instructor, was on his way to drop his 12-year-old brother at school when he came across the scene outside 36th Street station.
“I saw crying people, yelling and screaming for their life,” he said. “I asked a couple of people what’s wrong, what happened, and they told me there was a shooting.
“I was nervous about whether to take him home or to school,” he said. “I took my brother a safer way. We ran all the way down to 3rd Avenue.”
Brooklyn resident Danny Mastrogiorgio, whose four-year-old son goes to school near the 36th Street station, also spoke to The Independent after the attack.
“I saw people running up the stairs, running down the street. A guy from the MTA came out waving his arms, trying to get the cops to come down,” Mr Mastrogiorgio said.
“Eventually a bunch of ambulances pulled up. I saw them take one guy with a leg wound. They had him in the middle of the street there before the ambulance got him.
“It’s disturbing. I got a four-year-old boy I dropped off down the street. I just got off the train. We take this train every day. I would have been on the train with him.”
“I’m a lifelong New Yorker, I tend not to overreact to crime things, but it’s bad.”
Mr Mastrogiorgio added that his son’s school has gone into lockdown, like many others in the area.
Another witness at the scene, 15-year-old John Butsikares, described utter confusion on the train.
“Everyone was told to evacuate at 25th Street. It was all crowded. People didn’t know what was going on. It was just a scary moment,” Mr Butsikares told The Independent.
“The driver was telling everyone to evacuate, asking for medical assistance. I didn’t know what had happened at first but after I found out it was pretty scary.”
The student at Brooklyn Tech added: “I’m definitely a little more scared now. People always tell me to be careful on the subway, but I’ve never actually experienced anything. Now that I have, it’s pretty scary.”
Juliana Fonda, a broadcast engineer at WNYC, told the Gothamist she heard shots fired from one car over while riding the N train.
“People were pounding and looking behind them, running, trying to get on to the train,” Ms Fonda said.
“The door locked between cars and the people behind us, there were a lot of loud pops and there was smoke in the other car.”
Another commuter told the news site that 36th St station was filled with smoke as subway riders tried to evacuate.
“There was blood everywhere,” the commuter, who gave her first name Joana, said.
“Everybody’s just running out because they thought they were next.”
Few confirmed details have been given about the “undetonated devices” found at the station, but the NYPD said none of them were “active” amid unverified social media reports that an explosion may have gone off.
Police said the incident is not currently being investigated as an act of terrorism.
Train service on the D, N and R lines, which pass through the 36th Street station, was disrupted during the investigation but resumed on Wednesday.
Cameras down, trains left to run and faulty police radio
Police have come under scrutiny for their handling of the shooting as several key details suggested multiple mishaps allowed the gunman to escape.
Early in the investigation, Mayor Adams revealed that the stations surveillance cameras experienced “some kind of malfunction” and thus did not film the attack.
“We are communicating with the MTA to find out was it throughout the entire station or if it was just one camera,” he told WCBSRadio.
A uniformed officer, meanwhile, reportedly approached that arrived at the scene said his radio was not working and asked passengers to call 911, according to New York Times.
Asked why trains were not shut down immediately in an effort to catch the suspect, NYPD’s deputy commissioner for intelligence and counterterrorism, John Miller, told reporters: “That’s not the case.”
Anonymous NYPD sources earlier claimed the suspect’s escape may have been enabled by police error, with rolling stone reporting that a local duty captain from Brooklyn South patrol reportedly did not freeze all trains in and out of the station, where trains on the N, R and D lines transfer.
The NYPD disputed the report, calling it “factually inaccurate” and that “speculation, especially in the middle of a crisis, is not helpful.”
But they appeared to confirm that trains were not stopped by adding: “The victims on the train relied on the subway moving to the next stop to get to safety, and seek help.”
‘We will not allow New Yorkers to be terrified’
Mayor Adams reacted to the shooting in a video message recorded remotely after he had tested positive for Covid-19 – saying: “We will not allow New Yorkers to be terrorized, even by a single individual.”
In an interview hours later, Mr Adams pushed back on NYPD commissioner’s claims that the attack was not an act of terrorism, saying: “One thing was clear, the goal was to create terror in our subway system and that is not acceptable.”
New York Governor Kathy Hochul spoke alongside law enforcement at a press conference and urged residents to stay vigilant as the manhunt continues.
“Tranquility and normality was disrupted, brutally disrupted, by an individual so cold-hearted and depraved of heart that they had no caring about the individuals that they assaulted as they simply went about their daily lives. This individual is still on the loose. This person is dangerous,” Ms Hochul said.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said that President Joe Biden was briefed on the latest developments and the White House was in touch with Mayor Adams and the police commissioner.
Mr Biden commended those who stepped up to help victims in his own statement, saying: “Jill and I — my wife and I are praying for those that are injured in all of those touched by the trauma. We are grateful for all of the first responders who jumped into action, including the civilians. Civilians who did not hesitate to help their fellow passengers and tried to shield them.”